27 June, 2007

Admitting the obvious

At long last, the administration is saying what should have been obvious (and admitted) from the start. From Reuters:

President George W. Bush would like to see a lengthy U.S. troop presence in Iraq like the one in South Korea to provide stability but not in a frontline combat role, the White House said on Wednesday.

The United States has had thousands of U.S. troops in South Korea to guard against a North Korean invasion for 50 years.

Democrats in control of the U.S. Congress have been pressing Bush to agree to a timetable for pulling troops from Iraq, an idea firmly opposed by the president.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush would like to see a U.S. role in Iraq ultimately similar to that in South Korea in which "you get to a point in the future where you want it to be a purely support model."

"The Korean model is one in which the United States provides a security presence, but you've had the development of a successful democracy in South Korea over a period of years, and, therefore, the United States is there as a force of stability," Snow told reporters.

Iraq is too important, geopolitically and strategically, to leave. But note something else: the model being suggested is South Korea, not Japan or Germany. South Korea was a dictatorship (albeit a friendly one) for a long time. Democracy was desired, and encouraged insofar that it didn't threaten US interests, but it was never the primary goal of American policy. It's a long way from the neocon vision of remaking the Middle East. It also fits the architecture of the new American embassy, Fort Baghdad.

Whither the EU?

A colleague of mine recently returned from Europe, where she has been doing some fascinating research, particularly in regard to electoral reforms. Sometimes I wonder when I look at the state of scholarship on the EU and Europe, I wonder about the big picture. From OpenDemocracy:

Europe’s next steps

Shakespeare would surely have described the European council meeting in Brussels on 21-22 June 2007, and the new reform treaty it finally approved in outline, as Much Ado about Rather Little.

Rather little - but more than nothing. The new European Union treaty does make possible a number of the essential reforms which the union needs in order to be capable of facing immediate global challenges and further enlargement, and indeed without which it would stagnate and might even gradually disintegrate over the years ahead.

Perhaps the most important of these changes are those which strengthen the capacity of the EU to pursue a more independent foreign and security policy. The creation of an EU foreign minister (with the title "high representative for foreign policy and security") who will also be a vice-president of the European commission and who will have the support of an embryo EU diplomatic service (to be called the "external action service") is significant. But capacity is one thing: whether or not the political will exists among the member-states who will still determine policy to take advantage of that enhanced capacity is another.

The creation of a president of the council is a useful step but not one likely to transform the political realities of how member-states function at EU level. Interestingly the way is left open for a future merger of the offices of president of the council and president of the commission. The extension of decision by qualified majority voting (QMV) affects relatively few major policy areas with the exception of some aspects of justice and internal affairs. These are precisely the areas where the United Kingdom has been given "opt in" rights when it wishes to take part. It may do so more often in practice than it is letting on at present because of London's concerns about more coordinated action on crime, migration and terrorism.

The EU will be given a "legal personality" (over British objections) but this will change little in terms what happens in practice. It may get its first outing over a possible successor treaty to the Kyoto climate-change pact.

After the hype

None of the changes to the EU voting system or the way the institutions will work in future provides the slightest justification for a referendum to approve what are a series of technical amendments to existing EU treaties. These amendments - no more than the previous, misnamed "constitutional" treaty which was approved by eighteen member-states but vetoed by two - involve no significant change to what passes for a British constitution. The incoming British prime minister Gordon Brown is dropping large hints that he wishes to see "constitutional reform" - maybe this will make the task of negotiating these future EU treaties somewhat easier.

The overhyped theatricality surrounding the negotiations illustrates the continuing incapacity of some national government leaders to come to terms with the supranational politics needed to bring effective governance to the process of globalisation. The absurd posturing of the Polish and British leaders illustrates with particular force how great the gulf is between the new global economic and political realities and the myopic preoccupations of domestic politicians.

The Polish prime minister's justification for a new voting system as compensation for Poland's loss of population as a result of the horrors of the second world war was positively surreal - but no more than the Tony Blair/Gordon Brown campaign to exclude the British people from the legal provisions of the EU charter of fundamental rights. Among the populations of the twenty-seven EU countries only the British now have the privilege of being "protected" from the legal scrutiny of the European court of justice if their state authorities should in future violate existing British laws and also charter provisions - which range from a ban on torture and arbitrary arrest to the rights of working people to defend their interests through strike action.

Some very tricky drafting issues remain to be tackled by the incoming Portuguese presidency to ensure that the intergovernmental conference in late (probably October) 2007 converts the Brussels mandate into a firm agreement. But the odds must now be on the treaty amendments coming into force in time for the European parliament elections in June 2009. It will be interesting to see whether those elections are also used by the European parties to make a fight over the issue of who should be elected as the next president of the commission and around what kind of programme.

So much of the EU debate seems like attempts to force square pegs into round holes. There seems to be an abiding faith that somehow, if we all just keep talking, we'll suddenly find that there are no nationalists after all. It's a faith I don't share.

Sometimes I feel a sense of deja vu. So many of the Soviet experts were so interested in figuring out the details that they missed the structural contradictions. They (not I) couldn't imagine a world without a USSR, even as it was becoming unmanageable, and even as it tore itself apart. How many Europeanists can imagine a world without an EU? It may be closer than we think.

...the more they stay the same

Today's Jamestown Monitor has an interesting story about the return of the bad old days in Russia.

Last week President Vladimir Putin met with a selected group of delegates attending a Kremlin-organized conference, “Timely Issues in Teaching Modern History and Social Science.” Putin told the teachers: “Many school books are written by people who work to get foreign grants. They dance to the polka that others have paid for. You understand? These books, regrettably, get into schools and universities.” Putin demanded new history textbooks that “make our citizens, especially the young, proud of their country” and reiterated “no one must be allowed to impose the feeling of guilt on us.”

Putin pledged to hand out government grants to authors who will write proper new textbooks. Following his recent pattern, he used the meeting to again lash out at the United States. “Yes, we had terrible pages in Russia’s history,” he said. “Let us recall the events since 1937, and let us not forget that. But in other countries [the U.S.], it has been said, it was more terrible.” Putin suggested that Washington’s use of nuclear weapons against Japan at the end of World War II was worse than Stalin’s political repression and mass murder. Putin also cited the U.S. bombing campaign and use the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War (official transcript, www.kremlin.ru, June 21).

The teachers’ delegation dutifully rallied to Putin’s patriotic call. Leonid Polyakov, chair of the department of political science at the Higher School of Economics and author of a new, officially approved textbook, announced that his colleges have undertaken the task to create a “national-patriotic ideology.” These principles will help teachers in the “civic-patriotic education” of students as a supplement to “traditional military-patriotic education.”

Polyakov implied that Russia did not lose the Cold War, but instead “voluntarily disarmed” and imported a “shaky, abstract ideology of universal values, of words ‘freedom,’ ‘democracy,’ ‘market,’ ‘human rights,’ and ‘civil society’.” According to Putin, this foreign ideology has created a “mishmash” in Russian heads and in Russian society that must be corrected. Later, speaking on a Russian First Channel talk show Sunday, June 24, Polyakov argued that the invasion of Afghanistan by Russian troops in 1979 was neither a crime nor a mistake, but a Cold War decision in Russia’s interest, taken after due diligence by the Kremlin.

Polyakov graduated from university in 1973 as a Marxist philosopher and teacher of Marxist-Leninist Social Science. Putin graduated from university two years later, already recruited to become a KGB spy. Polyakov told Putin that today he is a happy man after being called upon to write a new textbook, that his life efforts, experience, and education are once again needed and that social science is back in the curriculum.

In Moscow during communist rule, it was often said that Russia is a nation with an unpredictable past. History was written one way and then repeatedly rewritten again. After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, it seemed for a time that the writing of textbooks and history in general would be freed of strict state control. Of course, historians, teachers, and journalists had been trained during the communist-era, but in a relatively free country new methodologies, untainted by totalitarianism, could rise -- but freedom did not last in Russia.

Putin specifically noted that the history of World War II and Russia’s history after 1991 are wrongly interpreted and must be rewritten. Today Stalin has again been rehabilitated as a leader who made mistakes, but still secured victory over Nazi Germany. The 1990s -- a decade when Russia was a freer state than at anytime before or since -- today is demonized. The pro-Kremlin youth movement Molodaya Gvardia has announced it will be organizing marches in Yekaterinburg and other cities in support of Putin and against the regime’s critics under the slogan, “No return to the 1990s” (RIA-Novosti, June 26).

Maybe even more important than the rewriting of history, is that Putin once again in unequivocal terms spelled out that he considers any Russian citizen or organization that receives any grants or other financial support from abroad in any form to be a paid agent of foreign interests -- a traitor. The traitors dance a “polka” ordered by the enemies of Russia. In fact, Putin said it was a “butterfly polka” (polka-babochka) -- a dance few perform or know anything about. The expression itself is totally alien to modern Russian ears. It is an expression from the Stalinist era that Putin perhaps remembered from long ago, and it is a notion of total paranoia and xenophobia, minted during a time when anti-Americanism was the cornerstone of “military-patriotic education.”

Putin’s personal paranoia and anti-Americanism seem to be growing and are increasingly dominating external and internal Russian politics. This does not mean that Russia is indeed reverting to communist totalitarianism. Putin is not a “Commie,” but a strictly observant Orthodox Christian, which is almost as demanding as being a strictly observant Orthodox Jew. It apparently was Putin’s explicit Christian observance that fooled George W. Bush at their first meeting in 2001 into seeing a reclusive Kremlin dictator as a potential close ally. That was a total illusion, since many in the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church tend to be as anti-Western, anti-American, xenophobic, and just as paranoid as are Russian Communists, the military, and the former KGB.
I can't say I'm surprised by the revisionist history. But I find the idea intriguing that Bush was taken in so easily by Putin because he saw the Russian as another fundamentalist Christian.

15 June, 2007

The Palistinian Civil War

Find a more complete report here. A sample:

"I think the Palestinians have lost everything," said Kukali, who makes his living conducting public-opinion polls among his people.

"They have lost their land. They have lost their money. They have lost their support from abroad. Now they have lost their minds."

Douglas Farah, here, makes some interesting points on what it all means for Hamas, the Islamic Brotherhood, and Al-Qaeda.

Make love, not war

Click here for the video.

An interesting case to watch

From the International Security Network:

Relatives of the nearly 8,000 Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) men and boys who were massacred in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995, have filed a lawsuit against the Dutch government and the UN, seeking compensation for failing to prevent the genocide.

The 228-page complaint accuses Dutch troops securing Srebrenica under a UN mandate of abandoning their positions when Bosnian Serb paramilitary forces approached on 11 July 1995, and handing thousands of men and boys over to be killed.

The lawsuit, prepared over the past six years, alleges that although the UN was aware of a pending Bosnian Serb military offensive at least two weeks before it began, neither the Dutch forces nor the UN took steps to save the local population of some 40,000, and were instead concerned only about the wellbeing of their own forces.

Munira Subasic, who lost 22 immediate and extended family members in the Srebrenica massacre, is the president of the Mothers of Srebrenica nongovernmental organization. Subasic accompanied some 300 women from Srebrenica to The Hague, where they handed over their complaint. The case will eventually be heard in a Hague district court.

"Western nations talk a lot about rule of law and justice, they write books and it is time for them to show that Europe really respects the law. And it is time for victims and their families to find their peace," Subasic told ISN Security Watch in a telephone interview.

A Bosnian and Dutch team of lawyers representing the plaintiffs base the case on Dutch, French and UN reports on the Srebrenica massacre. The lawyers say they will prove that the Dutch state and the UN were responsible for the fact that the enclave fell and genocide took place and therefore liable.

However, Dutch officials are transferring the blame to the UN, which allegedly failed to provide sufficient support to defend the town. Dutch officials say compensation claims should be directed at the perpetrators of the massacre, Bosnian Serbs, whose several high-ranking officers have been sentenced for their roles in the Srebrenica massacre.

For its part, the UN said last weekend that it was immune from legal action, citing Article 2 Section 2 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN.

"The survivors of the Srebrenica massacres are absolutely right to demand justice for the most heinous crimes committed on European soil since World War II […] but this immunity in no way diminishes the UN's commitment to assist the people of Srebrenica," UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe told a press conference.

Okabe also said that the UN is learning from its mistakes and would not rest "until it's fully equipped to prevent such tragedies from occurring in future within its peacekeepers' midst."

A Bosnian lawyer representing the victims, Semir Guzin, told ISN Security Watch that the UN's argument did not stand up to scrutiny because although the world body is granted immunity for the fulfillment of its goals, genocide in Srebrenica genocide was not one of those goals.

"The UN and the Dutch government breached their obligations to prevent genocide as laid down in the Genocide Convention, and there is no immunity for that," Guzin said.

"After all, isn't it hypocritical that the UN, as the world's main moral authority and leader of the fight for justice, is trying to avoid justice by playing the immunity card?" Guzin told ISN Security Watch.

Visualizing the world economy

I love it when you can see facts in a new way. Here, for example, is a map of the U.S. where each state is labeled with the name of a country with a comparable GDP. Note that it is not GDP per capita, but the GDP of each state, without any consideration of population.

Thanks to the strangemaps blog.

Whether you like it or not...

The Mexicans are coming.

They're coming to harvest the produce you eat.

They're coming to work your gardens.

They're coming to nanny your kids.

They're coming to...do whatever the hell other jobs Mexicans do in the U.S.

They're coming because, despite what you tell yourself, you want them to come.

You want them to come, because none of you who are going to bother to read this ever had any intention of spending your lives in an orchard or in a field, 12 - 14 hours or more a day, five or six or seven days a week in the blazing sun breaking your back to harvest produce. Because you never had any intention of spending your days planting flowers and pulling weeds and spreading fertilizer and changing mulch in someone's garden. Because you never had a dream of taking care of someone else's kids for a living while their parents are gone. Because you never had any intention of doing the myriad other menial jobs you now think are being taken from you.

You went to college, instead. Or got any number and types of technical certifications. Or joined the military. Or started your own business. Or got a job that requires a higher skill level and/or a linguistic and cultural fluency that an immigrant doesn't have. You wrote off those jobs as beneath you, and assumed that there's a whole bunch of 'other' Americans (not you, or most anyone you know, of course...but out there, in some abstract sense) clamoring for them.

The thing is, though, it seems that those Americans we think of as 'others' consider Americans they don't know as 'others,' as well. And they all seem to think that those 'others' want those jobs and would be doing them if it weren't for the sneaky immigrants.

Oddly enough, I don't recall ever reading any stories about born and bred Americans, Minutemen included, lining up outside of farms and the like looking for that sort of work, despite the ~5% unemployment the U.S. has today. Nor do I recall reading any such instances years back when unemployment was much higher (bear in mind, I'm talking about the past 30 years or so. No need to bring the Great Depression to my attention). People were still eating in the recession, and crops were still being grown and harvested, so I can't imagine that those jobs simply didn't exist for a few years...

"A-HA! Because the Mexicans drive down the wages for those jobs!"

Indeed, they do. Because you want them to. Because just as you won't work those jobs for those wages, the employers won't pay you the wages that might make those jobs seem more enticing. Because if they did, you, and the vast majority of other Americans, wouldn't buy those goods at the resulting price. Not when there's always imports competing with them. And you and most others couldn't afford those personal and home services if they were provided by born and bred Americans.

Of course, low wages to us are several times what they'd make doing the same thing back home. Crowded, spartan living conditions to us are probably almost luxurious to them. A generally rotten, unacceptable deal to us must be a pretty sweet deal indeed to them, or they wouldn't be coming in droves like they are.

And make no mistake, they will continue to come as long as it is profitable for them to do so. They come because, whether you like it or not, there's a demand for them. They come because of the basic law of supply and demand. They come because our system works. Short of digging WWI-style trenches along the border, complete with minefields and machine guns nests and pre-sighted artillery and orders to shoot border jumpers on sight (none of which is ever going to happen, you and I all know), they will come. Anything we do short of the extreme, politically impossible and morally unacceptable, will be building a razor wire fence to stop a tsunami. A useless waste of time and effort on one hand, and an embarrassing display of impotence on the other.

So, instead of making fools of ourselves trying to prevent the inevitable, why don't we concentrate our energies on making the inevitable work out better for us?

Our immigration system can't process people at the rate they're coming in? Expand it, and/or streamline the visa process. More people want in than the quotas allow? Raise the quotas. If there aren't jobs, they won't come.

They're overwhelming our welfare state? Trim the welfare benefits (yes, I know, easier said than done).

They don't speak English, aren't familiar with the cultural norms? Teach them. Get an ESL job in Cali or Texas. Or volunteer. Or freelance.

Find a bunch of them and get a business loan or investment and open a genuine, gourmet Mexican restaurant, or simple diner in your area. Organize them to teach private Spanish lessons. Start a landscaping firm and use their cheap labor. What? Someone's already doing that in your neighborhood? Do it faster, better, cheaper.

Be a capitalist and entrepreneur and seek out and exploit opportunity.

Anything. Just stop lamenting the rising and setting of the sun.

06 June, 2007

$60 billion intel budget--70 percent to contractors

The FAS site on secrecy links to a DIA powerpoint and some recent articles on how to decipher the things left unsaid (including the use of the Powerpoint edit function--will these people ever learn?). The result: the intelligence budget is a lot larger than generally believed, and 70 percent of it is going to private contractors.

As a matter of principle, I have no problem with contracting it out. The contracted work could well be better--except when (a) the contractor, claiming "trade secrets," can avoid oversight, and/or (b) the contractor is so dependent on the renewal of a contract that it gives the client what the client wants to hear. Condition (a) means there's no way for Congress to know what's going on. Condition (b) turns the outside contractor into a yes-man for whatever administration is in power. Put (a) and (b) together, we have a self-reinforcing set of illusions--and everyone pays for it.